What is Auditory Processing Disorder?

Pediatric Audiologist Testing Hearing with a Little Boy

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is a disorder that impairs an individual’s ability to cognitively process information that they have heard. The sensory system of hearing is not itself disturbed, but rather how the information goes from the ear to the brain to be understood. APD typically affects children, and it can interfere with a child’s ability to learn in school and socialize with others. 

Due to the nature of the disorder, APD may initially present as a learning or concentration disability because the child does not realize that they are being spoken to, and they may have a hard time learning language due to their inability to process language being spoken to them. APD is not a diagnosis in the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual-V, the manual for diagnosing psychological and psychiatric illnesses. APD is also not a learning disability because the child can learn normally. APD is strictly a physiological disorder, caused by a disruption in a child’s ability to understand auditory information as it is being processed from the ear to the brain.


Only about 3-5% of children are affected by Auditory Processing Disorder, but its effects can be felt across a child’s life. In school, a child may be unable to follow directions or listen to a teacher because they can’t understand what the teacher is saying. When learning, they may have an issue with reading, speaking, rhyming, and singing, all of which happen very frequently in the classroom. Socially, they may not be able to understand what other children are saying, so they may feel excluded. All of these factors lead to a child potentially being isolated or disengaged with others because they cannot participate in the same manner as other students.

According to Healthline, here are some of the most common symptoms of Auditory Processing Disorder:

  • Difficulty understanding conversions that are happening in loud spaces
  • Inability to understand words or sounds that sound similar
  • Unable to concentrate for long periods of time, especially with tasks that require an auditory component (i.e., singing, group projects)
  • Inability to enjoy music or other media (i.e., TV, movies)
  • Difficulty following along with long and complex directions
  • Need for directions to be repeated multiple times at a much slower pace than normal
  • Disengagement from auditory-related tasks, from learning, or from normal age-appropriate socialization

At first, it may seem like a child with Auditory Processing Disorder has some sort of neurocognitive disability due to their inability to understand what is going on around them, but the reality is generally that the child simply cannot truly understand what is being said to them and being said around them.


There is very limited research on what causes Auditory Processing Disorder. Explanations range from physiological explanations to other causes. Some proposed reasonings are: prenatal lead poisoning, head or ear trauma, and chronic ear infections. It is important to note that if your child is diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder, it is not your fault, and there is treatment and medical support available for your child to have a healthy, stable, and successful life.


If you suspect that your child has Auditory Processing Disorder, reach out to an audiologist for further testing regarding a child’s ability to hear properly. If an audiologist does not find an issue with a child’s hearing, and if they can confidently say that the child can hear adequately, then the next step may be to see a psychologist to determine whether your child has a learning disability, a psychological illness, or something else that may be causing these symptoms. Many children with Auditory Processing Disorder may be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) because there is a lot of overlap in the symptoms. 

For example, children with ADHD also demonstrate an inability to concentrate for long periods of time, a difficulty focusing, problems paying attention, and problems following directions. However, ADHD is a psychological disorder found in the DSM-V, and its causes are mostly mental, not physiological. In contrast, APD is a physiological disorder, where a child is unable to process information that they heard. One important piece to note is that Auditory Processing Disorder is not environment-specific, so its effects will be seen across aspects of a child’s life, including school and home.

Therefore, another good person to talk to is your child’s school teacher. Your child’s teacher is the adult your child spends a majority of their time with, and the teacher is trained to recognize signs of disabilities or hindrances in the classroom. The teacher may notice that the child has a hard time engaging with tasks that involve talking or singing, which causes them to become distracted by other things in the classroom. While your child’s teacher cannot diagnose APD, they can provide more background and context on how your child is doing in the classroom while learning. 

Your child’s teacher will also be a good person to talk to after your child receives a diagnosis for Auditory Processing Disorder. With your doctor, they will be able to work with you to create a plan to best help your child thrive in the classroom, despite their auditory disability.


An audiologist, speech language pathologist, and psychologist will have their own clinical measures for testing for Auditory Processing Disorder, but it is good to have a basic understanding for what they are testing for. First, they will test whether your child is able to hear properly or not. They will test hearing in a variety of different situations, in order to ensure that the issue is not environment-specific. They will also test a child’s ability to distinguish between different types of non-verbal sounds, and whether the child can pick up subtle changes in sound. Some doctors may conduct a brain scan while a child listens to music in order to determine whether the brain is recognizing sounds or not. Overall, there are a variety of assessments for clinical professionals to diagnose Auditory Processing Disorder. Talk to your doctor(s) about what is right for your child.

There are options if your child is diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder. There are many treatments available. Keep an eye out for symptoms, and if you suspect that your child may have APD, talk to a professional to get a diagnosis and to start treatment.